Guru Selling with Stories

Stories are like magic...

Anytime you set out to sell something, the first challenge you face is getting past your prospective customer's critical filters - better known as the little voice in their heads saying things like, "okay, what's the catch" or "what are they hiding?" Fail to get around the filters and they won't even hear the rest of what you have to say. They will tune you right out.

Novice sales professionals think that is the tough part, but getting past those filters is only the first challenge. Once you succeed, you still have to find a way to motivate them to take action.

The best tool for the job is a good story.

The magical power of stories comes from their unique ability to bypass the critical filters of a listener and tap into their emotions - and emotions are the trigger to action.

A Really Short History of Storytelling

Stories are found in every culture around the world. Telling stories is the oldest form of human communication and something unique to humans. Stories are tools we use to define ourselves and our world. They connect people through time and across cultures. And, they provide meaning to our experiences in life.

Imagine a dusty arcaeological dig site. Dozens of people on hands and knees are delicately brushing away years of dust and debris with small soft brushes. They are in search of the remains of a lost civilation. A shout goes up when a small chamber is opened and the remains of two humans, one full grown and one a child, are discovered...

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...What happens almost immediately at this archeological dig site?

As quickly as word of the discovery circulates around the site, people begin to speculate about who these people were, how they might have gotten here, what kind of life they lead, and how they died? In short, they start telling stories - it is what we do!

The earliest cave paintings were hunting stories told, most likely, to praise the skills of the hunters and also preserve and teach hunting knowledge. Oral traditions followed to pass down stories which much later became written histories.

Through fables and parables we use stories to teach. Think of Aesop and Jesus. We tell community stories to pass along collective values and connect us to each other. And stories have been used (for constructive and destructive ends) to rally people into action - Mr. Hitler and Mr. Churchill spring to mind.

On a more intimate level, we tell ourselves internal stories continuosly to define who we are in our own minds and help ourselves make decisions.

What Happens When You Hear a Story?

The first thing you do when a story is told is to drop your defenses. Stories are entertainment, so they don't feel like persuasion. We relax a bit and listen. If the story is well told, we get swept up in it and go along for the ride.

Next, we align ourselves with at least one of the characters in the story. We usually choose the main character or 'hero' to align with. The hero's thoughts, actions, and words become (at least briefly) our own and we consider them in a way that would not happen during a reason-based argument.

Finally, we experience the emotions of the hero as he struggles and then triumphs against the odds and becomes the person we dream of being and attains a goal we can aspire too.

From beginning to end, we engage with a story and experience an emotional journey.

The Power of Human Emotions

One of the key features of a story is its ability to create an emotional response.

Anyone watching the movie Apollo 13 would feel a rush of joy, elation, and relief as the radio silence during re-entry was broken and the astronauts announced that they had successfully returned to Earth. If you have seen the movie 100 times, it will still trigger those emotions every time.

The hidden side of this experience is that those emotions will validate all of the ideas expressed in the story world.

Stories, whether based on fact or pure fiction, have the power to make us feel emotions as if what we are seeing, hearing, or reading was actually happenening to us. The brain does not distinguish between stories and real life when it comes to processing emotion and...

...Emotion motivates action.

Neurologist Donald B. Calne (author of Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior) said it best: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

Print that out and tape it to your computer monitor.

How powerful is emotion in marketing? The American Association of Advertising Agencies released a paper entitled: "Why You Need to Incorporate Emotional Messaging Into Your Marketing Communications." One of the findings they reported is that emotional marketing messages are almost twice as likely to generate large profits as rational ones. (An interesting part of the reason for this is because emotionally focused marketing messages are effective for reducing price sensitivity, which leads to larger profit margins.)

While emotions are critical for motivating action, they still need some level of reason mixed in to justify the decisions required to move forward. Numerous research studies have shown that reason and emotion are both essential to the decision making process - just lead with emotion.

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